WASHINGTON — A Utah senator is among Republicans calling for the Biden administration to withdraw his nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management because of her involvement with tree spiking more than three decades ago.
"It must happen," Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, told Fox News over the weekend. "It should have been enough that she engaged in reprehensible behavior conspiring with criminals to make vile threats. She also lied to the Senate about her involvement in that."
Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney also opposes the confirmation of Tracy Stone-Manning.
"Sen. Romney is extremely troubled by Ms. Stone-Manning's past involvement in eco-terrorism and believes that her dishonesty about participation in these activities during testimony before the Senate disqualifies her from serving as the director of the Bureau of Land Management," Romney spokeswoman Arielle Mueller said Monday.
Tracy Stone-Manning typed an anonymous letter to the U.S. Forest Service in 1989 saying that someone had driven hundreds of metal spikes into trees in an Idaho forest that was slated to be cut down for timber.
"The reasoning for this action is that this piece of land is very special to the earth," the letter read. "The project required that 11 of us spend nine days in ... awful weather conditions spiking trees."
Tree spiking involves hammering a metal rod or other material into the base of the trunk where a logger might cut into the tree or higher up where it would mangle a mill's saw blade. Environmental activists use the tactic to stop timber harvests.
Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said Stone-Manning lied to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about her past association with an "ecoterrorist cell" that drove 500 pounds of spikes into the Clearwater National Forest. She anonymously sent a disturbing and threatening letter to the U.S. Forest Service on behalf of the ecoterrorists and then spent years covering up their crimes, he wrote Monday in an op-ed in USA Today.
"Her involvement and her false statements to the Senate about this ecoterrorist episode are reason enough to block her from serving as BLM director," Barrasso wrote.
While several GOP senators, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have come out against Stone-Manning, the White House has stood by her since she was nominated in April. Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney has not weighed in on Stone-Manning's nomination.
Tracy Stone-Manning should not be entrusted with caring for almost 250 million acres of federal land. pic.twitter.com/g5rRWjOIUv— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) July 17, 2021
The decision to send the letter has followed Stone-Manning for more than 30 years, through her rise in Montana politics to become one of the country's prominent environmentalists and public lands experts, according to a story in the Washington Post. The letter led to a grand jury investigation and her testimony in a subsequent trial helped put two people in federal prison.
Former classmates and activists, as well as two former defendants in the criminal case, describe her as a cooling voice among passionate activists, someone who did not want destructive tactics to distract from the message of environmental protection, according to the Post.
"Other than the mailing of the letter, Tracy knew nothing and was not involved," Jeff Fairchild, who spent two months in federal prison for the tree spiking, told the Post. "She was a bridge builder. She was a moderating voice in every discussion ... She was always the one to say, 'Hey, look, loggers have families, too.' "
In the letter, Stone-Manning wrote that the trees "were marked so that no workers would be injured." She also wrote that most trees were spiked within the first 10 feet but others as high as 150 feet up.
But the lead investigator in the criminal case wrote in a letter this month to the Natural Resources Committee that Stone-Manning was a target of the investigation, did not cooperate with investigators until she received immunity, and helped plan the 1989 tree spiking. Michael Merkley, a now-retired Forest Service investigator, described her as the "nastiest" of the suspects and "extremely antigovernment."
Two former BLM directors, Neil Kornze and Jim Baca, say Stone-Manning has what it takes to head the agency, which oversees about 245 million acres of federal land. About two-thirds of Utah is public land.
Stone-Manning has long been a responsible steward of the nation's public lands and waters, they wrote in an op-ed for the Salt Lake Tribune.
Kornze and Baca pointed to her work as a senior adviser to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., focusing on forest jobs. She also worked as director of Montana's Department of Environmental Quality, where she led water, air, mining, and remediation programs.
As former Montana Gov. Steve Bullock's chief of staff, she shared responsibility for the successful operation of the entire state government and its 11,000 employees, they wrote. Now as senior adviser for conservation policy with the National Wildlife Federation, she was a major force in the bipartisan push to expand the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
"I would not be here today, introducing her, if I thought she was the person that you described," Tester told Barrasso during the committee hearing. "This is a good person that has a good heart, that understands the value of our public lands."
Lee is unconvinced.
"She's not fit to run the Bureau of Land Management," he said.
"The Bureau of Land Management is something that a lot of people aren't familiar with," Lee told Fox. "But it has a huge amount of control over the entire western United States where there's a lot of public land. We can't allow this nominee to be confirmed."